I’m currently working in a fairly isolated location across town, and some weeks I’m working longer than 8 hours. My schedule many workdays is wall to wall booked:
Perhaps run as time allows
Prep for work
Go to work and work 8-10 hours
Work out if I didn’t get to in the morning
Prep food and clothes for tomorrow
Go to bed.
On many workdays I can’t leave the client facility because I only have 30 minutes for lunch, plus even when I can the best food options are halfway across town. In this location there’s no supermarkets or viable restaurant options nearby. I won’t eat garbage fast food or something off a vending machine or convenience store counter. Even if any of it was satisfying (hint: doubtful), the near total lack of useful nutrients will crash my energy levels in the afternoon, in a job where I need to stay engaged and proactive.
And, of course, I’m now endurance training. I need to stay fueled for those morning and/or afternoon runs. I can’t just eat a minimal diet or whatever happens to be available and expect to perform as needed in these workouts. Plus, I have to maintain my overall health and not make choices that will contribute to illness or burnout. The food I eat has to support not just my general day to day health but what I am doing in training.
I spend a lot of time in the gym with a lot of people who work out. Social media shows me countless others who also work out, train others, etc. I don’t have a Kinesiology degree but I know what I’m talking about. I preface with this because some of you are not going to like what I’m going to say next.
The two most common mistakes I see people make with strength training are:
People train like a powerlifter, with powerlifter goals, even though that’s not or should not be their goal.
People train continuously without taking any proactive, conscious training breaks.
Runners typically train for a race through 8-24 weeks of focused, progressive training, then take a break of either reduced or no running for some time afterward.
It just occurred to me that:
People who primarily strength train as their exercise never train like this.
Many who strength training typically see their development and progress hyperbolically slow after training for some time, and take for granted that this is normal.
Serious runners also see their progress hyperbolically slow after years of mostly continuous hard training for some time, and take for granted that this is normal.
Except for a weeks/months long “offseason” where they basically don’t train at all, most serious runners train continuously for their entire season with few, often brief planned breaks
Runners could benefit from peak-and-valleying their training season in the style of a 12 month grade school. Basically, you ramp training around recurring goal races, with the plan to downscale training in the week(s) following those periodic goal races.
Strength trainees may see more progress if they were to build regular periodic training breaks or “de-loads” into their training. Basically, progress training as usual for 8-24 weeks, then take a week or more where training stops and/or volume (whether reps, weight, frequency, or all of the above) are substantially, pointedly reduced. You rebuild, re-load energy and drive, then resume training a few days/weeks later really to attack the weights/road/water/bike/etc.
6a. Unplanned breaks like injuries and other life emergencies don’t count. Your body and mind are taxed and have to heal in other ways during breaks like these, and aren’t as fully available to rebuild and heal the way they do during a conscious, planned break in training. Sure, some recovery can happen, but imagine how you feel after a very stressful vacation. Are you “refreshed” and 100% when you go back to work or school?
I imagine a lot of the stalled progress in muscle growth and other “GAINZ” most strength trainees experience would cease to stall if they consciously built to a scheduled peak over weeks/months, then made a point to take a 1-2 week break afterward before resuming.
7a. Fitness loss is minimal during a 1-2 week extended break. As distance running’s Hanson Brothers have attested, the body tends to reap direct benefits from a key workout (and conversely, experiences a loss of fitness from a lack thereof) after 8-12 days. You can probably take a week off before resuming training and experience little to no loss in strength/fitness from where you left off. Two weeks off, and the loss would be very slight, to the point where after a couple weeks of gradually resumed training you’d be back to where you had left off.
So now, I’m looking at you, runners. Many of you have the right idea, where you start training mainly to run a goal race, train hard for that 8-24 weeks, then run your goal race and take it easy for a few days/weeks. There are certainly many things you could do better, but you have the right idea.
8a. And then there are some of you who continiously train, and train hard every week. You don’t take many planned breaks, maybe after a marathon or a longer race, but otherwise you’re doing high intensity workouts and/or high volume almost every week. And then you’re wondering why you get injured or you constantly have nagging injuries.
8b. Some of you call them “niggles”. I call them red alarm signals that you need to take a few days off.
This doesn’t mean don’t run unless you’re training for a goal race. This means your training should more consciously ebb and flow, at the very least follow a 3-5 week continuous cycle of gradually increasing volume to a peak before a week of lighter training. But what could benefit you most is longer 8-16 week cycles of gradually progressing volume, then or preceding gradually increasing intensity, before tapering and/or a goal race, followed by a 1-2 week period of reduced or eliminated training at a substantially lower intensity.
Plan breaks into your training before life makes you take unplanned breaks from training.
The catchphrase “listen to your body” is a general reminder to pay attention to the signals your body is giving you regarding your health, energy levels, mood, pain, etc. Paying attention to this information will show you when to rest, when to push hard in workouts, etc.
But we tend to only pay attention to energy, pain signals, and our general mood. Other things we measure and observe are also information our body is giving us.
Presuming you don’t have one: Some of this info can and should be tracked using a fitness watch such as a Fitbit or a Garmin. A suitable watch tracks calories burned and sleep on an ongoing basis. They’re not cheap (typically $100-400) but they are definitely worth their cost if you’re serious about fitness and personal development.
The information this watch can give you when worn everyday provides you with not just a wealth of stats, but those stats can communicate signals that your body hasn’t otherwise been able to get through to you.
Hindsight is typically 20/20 when it comes to training mistakes. Often you couldn’t have known at the time you were making a mistake, as experience afterwards is what ultimately taught you that what you thought was right turned out not to be right.
I trained a lot in Chicago as a runner, and I got into pretty good condition for where I was at. I learned how to prevent and safely work through injuries, and I logged a substantial volume of miles while running in dozens of races during the few years I seriously trained.
Looking back, I realize that something I did at every speed or tempo workout was actually counterproductive to my recovery and growth. It was hard to miss in large part because most of the people I trained with made a habit of the same thing, and even coaches didn’t realize this was counterproductive.
But the mistake inadvertently slowed my growth from these workouts, and had I know not to do it then I likely would have recovered more quickly and grown stronger workout-over-workout than I ended up doing. It may have made a substantial difference in how I performed in marathons and other key races.
Today for me was a rest day, and by rest I day I mean I ran a tick below 3 miles and rode the spin bike for 45 minutes before 10am. How relaxing!
Honestly though, I mentioned yesterday how I was going to resume daily running. That almost-3 miler went well, as I kept it super easy and got out there very early.
For the sessions on the spin bike at the gym, here is how intense I tend to do these: I usually bring a book, and read that book while I’m riding. I set the spin bike around level 3 (among the lowest levels) and maintain around 85-90 rpm. Not exactly hard work, though it’s a steady easy effort.
Today I read through an old standby I’ve read a few times: 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald. I didn’t pound through pages, and I usually don’t on these spin bike sessions. I very carefully read through about 20 pages towards the beginning of the book. I’d stop reading frequently to look up and around the gym. It was about as intensive a task as the spin ride itself.
Something like this is only a workout in title. This is mostly an exercise in active lower body circulation, getting the legs to move and flush waste products while cycling in fresh blood and nutrients.
There is a hint of upper body isometric work throughout. To stay upright, I won’t just sit upright in the seat: It’s impractical to read a book this way during this kind of effort. Maintaining upper body alignment, I will brace on the handles using my hands or forearms, depending on position.
This while not exactly tiring does require a subtle bit of arm strength, and is probably beneficial for my arm development and recovery (they do already get quite a bit of more serious work in my 20 minute strength workouts).
You don’t want to make a constant habit of isometric exercise, as you can stunt range of motion and possibly generate stress fractures over time. But a bit at a light intensity every now and again can be helpful.
I’ll do these recovery spin bike sessions now and again, probably 1-2 every couple weeks or so. They can be clumped together in a week and then not happen again for a week. They can happen once in a while. I play by ear when they happen, or build them in when I know there’s a lot of other exercise behind it.
As I’m looking to stay more consistently active, this for now is a very easy way to get some work in when also trying to rest and recover. As I type this (about an hour later) I really don’t feel tired at all, and certainly not sore. I was as expected a bit stiff in the legs, but as always I did some stretching afterward and now they feel alright.
If needing a day off, you are often better off doing some sort of activity on a recovery day than sitting and doing nothing. Most people often do plenty of nothing already.
Obviously there are caveats. If you are injured or very sick, you typically should rest and do nothing. Barring that, you should at least take a 20+ minute walk. And, even if you don’t want to read, an extended session on a stationary bike is also a decent way to sneak in some aerobic exercise and fat burning.
To preface all this, I have a weird work schedule now. Not that the schedule isn’t normal for me personally (I am working it every week, after all!), but it’s not a schedule most people work.
It’s an office job where I work from about 10-11am until about 8-9pm, an early swing or 2nd shift, and I work Thursday through Monday. That itself is no big deal.
What’s weird is that some days are worked in the office, and some days are worked remotely at home. Because most of the office works a traditional Monday through Friday schedule with office closed weekends and some holidays, there’s no practical reason for me to come to the office on weekends and holidays… though the stores I interface with are open weekends and holidays.
So I work remotely at home on Saturdays, Sundays, and business-open holidays, while going to the office (when open) on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. (Of course, with the current Coronavirus risk, this can always change and I could end up working remotely everyday if that situation gets suitably dangerous again.)
Getting back to more relevant material, this adds several wrinkles to training. I’ve mentioned before that my schedule now allows me to train comfortably every morning, without having to wake up early. I can also sleep in as needed, and the reduced sleep deprivation improves my long term recovery.
However, once I get off work around 8-9pm, it’s highly impractical to train at all being so close to bedtime. So on work days I need to train during the morning, unless lunch and work circumstances allow me to sneak out and get a quick workout in during a late afternoon lunch break.
On the flip side, having to work out early in the day means spending my work day sitting, which really helps with recovery. There’s no afternoon commute or stress to complicate recovery… especially if I’m working from home that day: There is no commute!
With all of these opportunities and advantages, I have slowly carved out a template for a weekly all-around training schedule.